During the night of Dec. 22-23, 1989, mere hours after the fall of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, a squad of confused militia men navigates the chaotic streets of Bucharest rife with warring factions in “The Paper Will Be Blue.” Third feature by helmer Radu Muntean (“The Fury”) adeptly blends docudrama realism and wryly observed humor in a manner comparable to fellow Romanian Cristi Puiu’s recent “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” and other local films, while offering yet another intimate-scaled, off-center examination of the impact of 1989. Adventurous distribs may care to sign on “Paper” for niche release and possible TV sales.
Opening day lit scene shows a group of soldiers and apparently one civilian coming out of an armored car for a cigarette break, only to be suddenly gunned down by unseen assailants. Rest of pic unfolds the night before, so that the context of the scene and who exactly has been shot is only clear at the end, adding an extra chill to the often humorous proceedings of film’s bulk.
On Dec. 22, Romanian leader Ceausescu is overthrown by a combination of general insurrection and military coup, and no one is quite sure who is running the country. An armored squad car unit of militia (national police) soldiers under the command of Lt. Neagu (experienced legit thesp Adi Carauleanu) is assigned to keep the peace in a fairly quiet Bucharest suburb. Over their often malfunctioning radio, they hear that the army, siding with the anti-Ceausescu populace, has taken control of the national TV station, but reports come in that pro-Ceausescu “terrorists” are trying to siege control of the station back.
Young militiaman Costi (cheeky newcomer Paul Ipate), who has secured his coveted Bucharest posting near his family due to his doctor father’s connections, argues with his fellow soldiers and Neagu that they should go help defend the TV station. When a crowd distracts the unit’s attention, Costi runs off to join anti-Ceausescu supporters headed toward the station.
However, he gets waylaid at a suburban house run by paranoid protestors, where he’s at first called on to help defend the house against “terrorists” and then suddenly accused of being one himself and arrested.
While Costi struggles to convince his captors of his democratic beliefs, Lt. Neagu, petrified he will get into trouble for Costi’s desertion, takes the squad to go look for him. They end up at Costi’s house where his anxious mother (Dana Dogaru) and g.f. (Ana Ularu) are constantly watching the rolling footage from the national station (real archive material broadcast at the time).
Helmer Muntean and his co-screenwriters Razvan Radulescu and Alexandru Baciu adroitly play off the threat of real violence (as promised in opening scene) against the comic absurdity of the what’s going on, for instance when Costi finally persuades his captors to let him go by getting his mother on the phone to vouch for his character.
Characters, who are hard to tell apart at first given grainy, umbral quality of high-def night shoot, gradually blossom into likeable, fully formed personalities.
Using largely handheld camera rigs and overlapping sound, pic achieves high degree of naturalism, creating docudrama feel without ever edging into preachiness. Accent is on showing confusion of the times from regular folks point of view, not making a big statement about history in the larger sense.